Family, Self

I'm A Mom — But I Actually Respect Women Who Choose NOT To Have Kids

childless by choice

I'm a mother by choice. I've always wanted to have kids and always knew I would have kids (at least one). I felt it in my bones and my soul as a child that I would someday have a daughter, raise her well, and love her with all my might, working hard to be different than my own mother.

I don't know if my mother felt like she had any choice about becoming a mother. She certainly didn't enjoy raising a child. Children know how their mothers feel about them, especially children that are unloved.

So many women who end up abusing their children feel forced into motherhood, a role they don't wholeheartedly want and aren't prepared for, but one they feel powerless to reject. Ultimately, these mothers take their resentment and helplessness out on their children in acts of rage, perpetuating a generational cycle. People without coping mechanisms grow to raise people without coping mechanisms until one day, one mother who escaped malignant narcissism in favor of co-dependence says no more. It ends with me.

In spite of the pain I endured in childhood and young adulthood trying to love a woman who was toxic, I don't hate my mother.

I've faced profound sadness and years of invalidated rage in therapy so those feelings are no longer front and center. At this point in my life, I mostly wish for my mother to heal, not so I can love her, but so she can face her own abusive childhood and finally experience real understanding of her relationship to me and how she treated me.

I don't think that's actually possible, but I want her to want to be different ... or I used to. I've pretty much broken ties with my mother. Though I don't outright refuse to speak to her, we are very "low contact" as they say in psychology circles. I've kept a window open so my mother can maintain a relationship with my daughter, who she treats well. My mother is able to be sweet and charming toward my daughter in the same way she can be sweet and charming toward everyone else.

It's only when my mother and I are alone that the old familiar contempt she always held for me begins to seep out in her speech, in her tone, into the air. I am her trigger. I am the one thing — in her eyes, though I am not a "thing" at all — that causes her to re-experience the trauma of her own childhood, even as she remains in denial about it.

She never had the skills to properly deal with those triggered feelings, and she never tried to learn any, no matter how hard I begged and pleaded for her to growing up. Instead, she remained righteous and defensive, rigid and raw. She raised me with blinders on, which was what she wanted ... or all she could manage. Or both. It doesn't matter; I'll never know and I wouldn't believe her if she told me. I couldn't. She doesn't know the truth; she doesn't know herself.

But women who choose not to have children do know themselves. Women who choose — in this day and age when we still have to vigilantly ensure our right to choose — are intimately familiar with their limits and their desires.

Women who choose not to have children because they do not want to have children, are making the incredibly gracious and kind decision to refrain from having children they do not want.

Yet, these very women are inconceivably described by some as "selfish." Why? How? What?!

When I came upon Brit Tashjian's recent YourTango article on the subject, I couldn't believe what I was reading. She writes, "Don't get me wrong: I'm thrilled women are able to separate their feminine worth from their desire and ability to bear children but I'm afraid it's taken us in the wrong direction. The reasons these women are touting — sacrificing sleep, money and time, to name a few — don't defend a woman's right to be childless, they defend a woman's right to be selfish."

Tashjian is bound to the worldview long espoused by the patriarchy: that women must be chained to other people.

She says, "We live in a culture where personal freedom and comfort have gone from privileges to our top priorities. We've long lost the beauty of sacrifice." The beauty of sacrifice? Oh, how noble! Except when the type of sacrifice Tashjian is touting is known by its other name: martyrdom.

Any child of a toxic mother can tell you all about how their mother slaved and toiled and gave up everything just to endure the pain of raising an "ungrateful" brat. Is that sacrifice really so beautiful? It certainly wasn't from my vantage point as a kid — and it's pretty ugly looking back on it as an adult.

Tashjian's idea that "this push for preserving 'self' above all else takes us down a dangerous path — one that's not particularly safe for the individual and one that will surely lead to deterioration for society as a whole," is an absolute falsehood that is itself extremely dangerous.

The notion that all women are capable to the same extent of being nurturing and carry the same desire for being selfless, self-sacrificing, and showing empathy is a co-dependent one. Suggesting that if selfish people only tried harder they would find their true, selfless nature is precisely the lie that keeps people trapped in abusive relationships, whether those relationships are with parents or lovers, at work or with friends.

Furthermore, the notion that women have some duty to care for others above themselves, that all women must give more than they receive, is not only outdated; it's insulting to women and men.

Women are not the caretakers of the world. Everyone is capable of caring and being cared for, and everyone must participate in that dynamic.

If women do not feel a call to motherhood, then not having children is the wisest, most caring thing they can do. Many women choose not to have children precisely because they fear they won't be able to escape becoming like their abusive mothers.

Others choose not to have children simply because they do not want children, not out of any selfishness or malice or fear, but simply because that is a woman's right!

Whether or not a childless woman finds "other ways to give life to others," as Tashjian urges, is no one else's business. Until we start calling for men to find ways to "give life to others," women should do whatever they damn well please. Yes, be a good person, but go have some fun. You earned it just by being alive.

To declare that all women who are childless-by-choice are egomaniacal monsters who don't care about the future of humanity is not only ridiculous, it's mean. Some of my closest friends are childless-by-choice and they are wonderfully warm, loving women who don't need to be lectured by anyone — least of all by another woman — about how they need to learn to put other people first.

All women need to learn to put themselves first and make sure their own needs are met; only then is anyone capable of beginning to care for anyone else. No more forcing women to do things they don't want to do.

It's unacceptable to force women into marriage, sex or motherhood. If society is "deteriorating" because women are free to choose how they want to live, it's a patriarchal society that needs breaking down.

If Tashjian truly wants to encourage women to have children, she should help create a new society where women and children actually get their needs met — where paid maternity and paternity leave are legislated by the government; where equal and fair pay helps families feel less stressed and gives them more time to relax and care for their children; where women's choices are respected and everyone gets to flourish, giving birth to whatever they want to give birth to: children, change, growth, passions, careers.

That would be a great way for Tashjian to give life to others and to really dig in and do something selfless. After all, as she says, "blood, sweat and tears? That’s what life is all about."